Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich took a break from attacking GOP rival Mitt Romney yesterday to criticize President Obama on his Latin American policy. Speaking to an audience at Florida International University, Gingrich accused the Obama administration of not being doing enough to promote democracy in Cuba. “They worry about an Arab Spring in Egypt, where we give billions of dollars of aid every year, they worry about an Arab Spring in Syria,” said Gingrich. “I don’t think it’s occurred to a single person in the White House to look south and propose a Cuban Spring.”
He then proposed a more active approach to Cuba. Recalling the Cold War, Gingrich pointed to the Soviet containment policies adopted by Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II as examples of using “every non-military tool” to promote regime change.
The GOP candidate than turned to Venezuela, calling the Chavez government a “major growing problem.” He claimed that Chavez was facilitating an Iranian penetration into the region, and even warned of the potential for Iran to develop military bases “and other assets” in the hemisphere. Surprisingly, Gingrich evoked the Monroe Doctrine, saying that Iran’s influence in Latin America constituted the first overt violation of the 19th century era policy since the 1820s.
This is not the first time that a presidential candidate in this election season has mentioned the Monroe Doctrine. At the CNN Foreign Policy Debate in November, Governor Rick Perry called for a “21st Century Monroe Doctrine” to be applied to the region.
Such inflammatory rhetoric coming from Gingrich, who some polls suggest may be the new Republican frontrunner, is alarming. For one thing, as detailed in the January 13th Post, Iran’s influence in the country is extremely limited, and does not constitute a major security threat to the U.S. In his dire warning of Iranian penetration, he overlooked the recent tensions between Iran and Brazil, the emerging powerhouse in the region.
His proposal for Cuba is similarly off the mark. U.S. intervention in Cuba on the scale of its recent activities in Libya or Egypt would likely be widely unpopular. In fact, the long history of U.S. intervention is one of the main sources of support for the government in Cuba.
· On the same day as Gingrich’s speech, Fidel Castro had some harsh words for the Republican primary race, describing it as a “contest of idiocy and ignorance.” In a column published Wednesday on Cubadebate, the former Cuban leader said he was appalled by the way in which the candidates were competing to demonize the Cuban state. He also claimed that international media accounts of the death of political prisoner Wilman Villar have been largely untruthful.
· Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is back in office after receiving surgery to remove her thyroid gland. The Associated Press reports that the president signed a series of agreements with the country’s provinces as her first official act since temporary leaving office on January 4th.
· According to the BBC, the backlash against a police eviction of more than 6,000 people from an illegal settlement in Sao Paulo continues to grow. Amnesty International has said the move violated "a raft of international standards.”
· A search of several congressional offices in Mexico has revealed several hidden listening devices. Although the specific congressmen who found bugs in their office has not been revealed, El Universal claims that lawmakers from all three major parties (PAN, PRI, and PRD) were wiretapped. Because the technology of the bugs appears to be slightly dated, officials believe that they may have been in place for years. It is not clear who is behind the wiretapping, but the Calderon administration denies having any part in it.
· A new report by U.S. security firm STRATFOR says the Zetas are the largest drug cartel in Mexico, controlling more than half of the states in the country. As InSight Crime has reported, Mexico crime analysts have been making this claim for a while, and it does not mean that the Zetas are more dominant than their rivals, the Sinaloa Cartel.
· Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reports that judges in the country have prohibited Marllory Dadiana Chacón Rosell and three other Guatemalan citizens from leaving the country after the U.S. government accused her of drug trafficking and money laundering. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Chacon is “one of the most prolific narcotics traffickers in Central America.” The Guatemalan press has had a field day with the accusations, with elPeriodico even going so far as to call her the country’s “Narco Queen.”
· Venezuela’s attorney general, Carlos Escarra, passed away yesterday from a heart attack. Escarra was a longtime ally of Chavez and took part in writing the new Venezuelan constitution that was approved in 1999. More from Venezuela’s El Universal.
· The Chavez administration today announced that it had formally begun Venezuela’s withdrawal from the World Bank’s International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes. The AP says the government claims that the decision was made in order to “protect national sovereignty” in the face of several multi-million dollar claims from companies which have been nationalized.
· An electric surge in Costa Rica caused a blackout in neighboring Nicaragua on Tuesday night, leaving almost the entire country without power. Tensions are still high between the two countries after a 2010 border dispute, and the blackout incident has caused some to question whether it was in fact accidental, as Costa Rican officials claim.
· Michael Allison has an insightful response to yesterday’s Miami Herald editorial in which the paper called for the U.S. to “get serious” about the security situation in Honduras and Central America as a whole. According to him, the Herald overlook the role the U.S. played in militarizing the region during the civil wars of the 1970s and ‘80s, as well as the country’s continued support for corrupt governments like Honduras’.